If I hear that we need to think outside of the box when it comes to news one ... more ... time ...
Regular readers of the whiteboard know I am in the midst of teaching a class on Redesigning the News Ecosystem. The teaching team, aside from myself, is made up of Dave Wright of Twitter and Tyson Evans of The New York Times. Laura McClellan Pickel is our experience assistant (think teaching assistant on d.school steroids).
We had a full-day of class on Saturday -- it was so full, in fact, I have been in a bit of a fog since then. This post has been sitting somewhere in that fog, which is just beginning to lift.
If someone ever tells you teaching is easy and anyone can do it, stare at them quietly for a moment and walk away. That person has no idea what they are talking about. Teaching is difficult, because it means guiding people through discomfort to new understanding. Nevermind we are trying to do so in a space where scores of people are banging their heads up against the walls of the box, hoping against hope that the walls will crack and eventually crumble.
Teaching this class has shown me that the "news" isn't a box outside of which we must think, it's an octagon, a thunderdome -- it's a cage. We can see the promise of a new way of thinking, we just have to fight a lot of old frameworks and mindsets in order to get out.
But, let's go back to another box -- the classroom. Well, since this is the d.school, it was a studio, which was a box we could very easily exit and enter.
The day started with a class-wide introduction and a game of "Party, Park, Jail" -- a team building exercise. We did this in response to feedback delivered during the previous class session: folks wanted to know who else was joining them in the class. Who could blame them? They're a pretty stellar bunch.
We bounced from introductions to a discussion on the problems that plagued the news. We asked students to, in their teams, produce as many problems as they could think of as well as propose the ones they are most interested in solving. These would serve, we hoped, as areas in which they could focus for the purpose of their design work. The news ecosystem is, after all, very large. So, we agreed it might be best to have students flare in order to focus.
Tyson and Dave then engaged in the yeoman's work of sorting the problems into categories. Then, each team chose a category. Next, I walked teams through a brainstorm of analogous organizations and situations. Teams noodled on the following questions:
- What were companies or organizations that had confronted a similar problem area to the one they were addressing?
- What solutions had those other entities proposed?
- What were ways in which they were addressing their problems that could be applied to the problem the team had in front of them?
Then we let them break out of the box (see what I did there?) and into the rainy outdoors. There may have been two four-foot long burritos involved beforehand (no, there definitely were). Then they were off.
Teams could choose where they wanted to go on campus. Their job was to mine the knowledge they had gleaned of empathy interviewing along with some additional logistical instructions. We, as a teaching team, checked in with two groups, providing hands-on guidance to help each team improve their interviewing technique and synthesize initial findings.
Then, roughly two hours later, they were back in studio to unpack their interviews. We then careened them through additional learning, guiding them just enough to get through stages of process necessary for them to arrive at a point of view statement and solidify (somewhat, at least) a design challenge, or "how might we." They then brainstormed around those "how might we"-statements, producing prototype ideas.
So, how did they do?
They were incredible. The day-long class was a gauntlet, and they handled it extraordinarily well. Here are the ideas we currently have on deck:
- Subconscious sleep news: Where news is called into you while you are sleeping
- Artificial intelligence Q&As: Where answers to questions about the news are customized based on what you want
- In-line comments: Where comments are on the side of an article and not relegated to the bottom of the page, below the main content.
- Interactive podcast: This would mix news, your personal data and wiki sources
- Suggested reading: This would build on trusted sources, curating 3-5 links at a time
- Big stories context for mobile: These would be well-written stories providing context on big news stories of the day
- More from reporters & readers: A content area showing more from reporters and readers side by side
- Values news: Where news would be chosen and surfaced to someone based on their values
- Bleeding-edge newsies: A means by which an individual within a certain social circle would be identified as the source of news for that group, and be given a way to deliver news to their circle.
- Being informed score: Think a Fitbit for news. How healthy are you in terms of your news consumption?
- Leveraging signals: A digital service that would tap into social networks. It would operate as a browser plugin to mine users' news desires and leverage signals.
- Digital tools suite for social gathering: A suite of digital tools to prompt people to physically gather at social events around the news.
Now, I am interpreting post-it handwriting on many of these. So, expect some of them to change as I get feedback from teams. But, speaking of feedback, what's yours?
Woah, hold it.
Before you pop your critique hat on (which comes easily to those in the world of editing), here's a constraint. You (yes, you, the person reading this right now) may only deliver feedback in the form of "I like / I wish". In other words, you may begin any comment with "I like...." or "I wish ...".
That's how we do it at the d.school. Why? Because it keeps feedback constructive, and converts criticism into a potential point of action rather than mere tear-down.
So, what's next? Next week, we will be introducing students to the current technological landscape in the news ecosystem. We will be pushing them to fight a bit harder to get out of the octagon-thunderdome of how we think about news. What if we incorporated nature more? What if you weren't allowed to do anything digital (no apps, no platforms, etc.). What if every idea had to be pink?
Remember, constraints can be fun.
We will then call on students to begin prototyping. But we won't be pulling out bins and pipe cleaners. We will ask teams to draw their prototype -- multiple versions of it. They'll draw individually, then in teams, and then as a group. Then, and only then, will we call on them to build.
It's going to be a fun day on Wednesday. A very, very fun day.